It’s incredibly difficult for anyone to come forward when the victim of sexual assault. Victims are often unwilling to come forward because of social stigma, fear that their claims will not be believed, fear of further victimization, shame and other reasons. The Rape, Abuse, & Incest National Network says over 60% of sexual assaults are unreported.
The challenge of reporting rape makes the actions of the Missoula Police Department and the Missoulian almost impossible to understand.
On the day after the Missoulian reported that a UM football player has been charged with rape, the newspaper is giving top of the page attention to a story titled “Research varies on rate of false rape reports,” giving credence to the misogynistic, damaging idea that women are likely to manufacture claims of sexual assault.
The entire framing of the story is almost unimaginably insensitive. There’s been no public defense from the accused asserting he is the victim of a false claim. There’s been no evidence to suggest that women are making false claims about rape in Missoula.
Rather than focusing on the fact that a Missoula police officer was merely “counseled” for telling a woman reporting a rape that women make false claims to avoid “trouble with their boyfriends,” the story lets Missoula Police Chief Mark Muir justify treating rape victims as criminals:
When Muir visited in person with that woman and another who’d filed a sexual assault complaint, "we had a discussion here in my office about the fact that there is false reporting that does take place," he said. "There are studies that have shown numbers are closer to 40 to 50 percent."
Later he emailed the woman a 2009 article about those studies, two of which used polygraph tests. One of those examined 1,218 reports of rape on Air Force bases in the 1980s and subjected 546 of those making allegations in "unresolved" cases to polygraphs.
"Twenty seven percent of these complainants admitted they had fabricated their accusations just before taking the polygraph or right after they failed the test," the Forensic Examiner article said. That study combined the finding with other results to come up with a false accusation rate of 45 percent.
The officer who made the remark should be exposed and disciplined, rather than protected by his boss and the media. Chief Muir should either make it clear that he doesn’t believe 50% of women who report rape are lying—or he should resign, because Missoulians—both men and women—deserve to know that the police will help them when they are victims of any kind of assault.